‘Hitting Hard’: Delta Cases, Hospitalizations Spike as School Precautions Still Optional | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

‘Hitting Hard’: Delta Cases, Hospitalizations Spike as School Precautions Still Optional

Children are at increased risk of infection to the delta variant of COVID-19. Mississippi State Department of Health guidelines recommend universal mask usage and social distancing, but individual schools and parents can decide which precautions to take. Photo courtesy Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Children are at increased risk of infection to the delta variant of COVID-19. Mississippi State Department of Health guidelines recommend universal mask usage and social distancing, but individual schools and parents can decide which precautions to take. Photo courtesy Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Mississippi saw a continuation of this summer’s fourth wave surge over the weekend and continuing into this week, with the Mississippi State Department of Health reporting a staggering 3,608 new COVID-19 cases for those three weekend days alone. The general underestimation of weekend cases, due to lower staff available for case sequencing, underscores the average of more than 1,200 daily cases. Monday’s report continued the alarming trend with 1,291 cases as well as 15 fatalities, due overwhelmingly to the delta variant.

“COVID-19 testing has jumped statewide, and positive results are a LOT higher,” MSDH tweeted Monday morning. “Our positivity rate is now the same as it was during the worst of COVID-19 in January. Delta is hitting hard.”

MSDH reported 81 outbreaks among long-term care facilities this morning, marking a sharp and continual rise from the 19 outbreaks at the beginning of July. Insufficient vaccination rates among health-care workers, among other factors, prompted the University of Mississippi Medical Center to mandate campus-wide vaccination or N95 mask usage last week.

The fourth wave of the virus, which the delta variant’s increased rate of transmission fuels, is infecting younger people at higher rates than previous strains, and affecting them more severely. Infection rates have decreased among older Mississippians, who remain the most vaccinated segment of the population at 70% compared to 42% or lower for younger groups.

“Much younger Mississippians are being hospitalized with the Delta variant,” reads a Twitter statement from MSDH on July 26. “We are in a strikingly different situation from a year ago, when severe COVID-19 occurred mostly in those over 50. Now 43% of those hospitalized for COVID-19 right now are under 50.”

Hospitalization rates for those 19 or younger have more than doubled since this time last year, while children under 12 years of age are still ineligible for vaccination.

“More than a quarter of all COVID-19 hospitalizations are in those under 40,” the MSDH statement continues. “If you are a younger adult and unvaccinated, Delta is posing a new and more serious risk to you. Strongly consider getting protected today.”

The news of increased risk to younger Mississippians comes as schools begin to open state-wide for the fall semester without mandated safety precautions. The DeSoto County School District currently has no mask mandates for its schools, leaving it up to individual schools and parents to decide what precautions to take for their children.

The Mississippi chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics released a July 22 letter voicing its concerns and recommending universal mask usage in lieu of complete vaccination.

“In the absence of schools being able to conduct monitoring of vaccination status on a daily basis, universal masking is the best and most effective strategy to create consistent messages, expectations, enforcement and compliance without the added administrative burden placed upon already stressed teachers,” the letter, signed by chapter president Dr. Anita Henderson, reads.

“As the virus continues to replicate, we have continued concern for variants that are more easily spread among children, adolescents, and young adults.”

Though not mandated, MSDH recommends mask usage for all unvaccinated students and faculty, as well as a minimum of 3 feet of social distancing.

Email Reporting Fellow Julian Mills at [email protected].

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